Q&A: Dan Beebe talks LHN, Big 12 future

August, 8, 2011
8/08/11
11:00
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Dan BeebeAP Photo/Matt StrasenCommissioner Dan Beebe has been dealing with concerns over expansion and the Longhorn Network.
The Longhorn Network doesn't launch until Aug. 26, but it's already been the subject of plenty of discussion and prompted the league's athletic directors to meet last week in Dallas in the midst of more realignment rumors and problems that had to be solved before the launch.

"Oh, you know, just another easy summer," Beebe said with a laugh to begin a recent interview with ESPN.com. "I need a summer where I can be bored for once."

He didn't get it in 2010, when the Big 12 lost a pair of teams.

This one wasn't easy either, but Beebe took some time to talk about the Longhorn Network, Texas, Texas A&M's future in the Big 12, and the league's possible new network.

We’ve seen commissioners take a much bigger role in this world of expansion and realignment, but how has that changed the jobs you, [Big Ten commissioner] Jim Delany and [SEC commissioner] Mike Slive and the rest of you do compared to your predecessors?

Dan Beebe: I think the intensity is ratcheted up enormously. It’s already more intense, and there’s a greater amount of intensity that’s been created between the high-resource conferences and the lower-resource conferences. For the commissioners’ roles themselves, and within the BCS-level conferences, it’s ratcheted up as well.

How much longer do you think we’ll be talking about expansion and realignment in college sports in general?

DB: It’s happened for a while, for 20 to 22 years that I’ve been around. Certainly when it happens at this level, it makes a lot more news. I mean, I brought in five new members when I was in the Ohio Valley Conference, and then you’d have to look back at Penn State and Arkansas and South Carolina and some other movements that have gone on.

I think until we all kind of settle into our new television deals and we play, the Big Ten plays together with its 12 and the Pac-12 plays together and the Big East with its new configuration, until we go through a few years of that, this will always be something that people suspect will occur, and that’s a change in alignment.

What was it like for you to see this stuff bubble up again in recent weeks, a year after it looked like the Big 12 had kind of moved on?

DB: It’s disconcerting. Like I said at media days, we’re not going to get the benefit of the doubt by the media or the public until we go through a couple seasons probably playing each other and everybody gets to see what we’re talking about in terms of our stability and commitment to the future and what’s going on or what we’re about.

We had that athletic directors meeting the other day, and every single athletic director reiterated their commitment to the conference and the fact that they believe the best place for their institution is in this configuration of institutions.

How would you describe the discussions at the meeting last Monday?

DB: Frank. And respectful. But there certainly was -- and I encouraged it -- nobody I think held back from what their feelings were and what their position was.

Look, the one thing that hasn’t gotten out is, especially with the Longhorn Network, how considerate DeLoss Dodds and Texas has been about this. They have said, and it’s made several publications, that they did not want to do anything that was going to create a recruiting advantage or do anything that was going to harm the conference. And DeLoss came to the meetings with that kind of continued attitude about it.

So what was expressed that you would describe as frank?

DB: Well, that kind of sentiment. I don’t want to get into what goes back and forth while ideas are being formulated, because I think you need to have those things done in private, so it was just a matter of where everybody stood on certain issues and it was a good exchange.

Texas A&M has certainly been at the center of a lot of this, so what did they express to you and others in the meeting about their future in this league?

DB: That they’re very, strongly committed to the conference, just as Bill Byrne stated. They helped make sure it was going forward last summer and believe strongly that this is the place for the institution to be located.

How do you feel the Longhorn Network’s general existence affects the long-term stability of the league?

DB: Well, I think that all of our institutions in five years are going to have delivery systems, whether they be together or some together, some not. We’ve just seen the Pac-10 basically create that for their own members in what, six different networks and a seventh for the conference?

So, I think that’s the wave of the future. There’s going to be an appetite for fans in a local region to see the content in that region that may not be appealing for a wider region or even nationally, and all of our institutions are going to create some sort of delivery system.

The Longhorn Network is just the first one out of the gate. And whenever you have a first venture like that, there’s all sorts of questions and things that need to be ironed out. But I think all of [the other schools] will be there in five years.

Where does the Big 12 sit on the process of possibly creating a Big 12 Network or maybe bringing some of those delivery systems into reality?

DB: As a conference collective, we’re not involved with the aggregation of those third-tier rights. Now, if I’m personally asked to assist -- and we’ve helped some of our third-tier rights holders understand what our media deals require and how much inventory is left for them -- Learfield or IMG, let’s say, those are the two that have the rights to our schools -- so that they can turn around and try to figure out a delivery system individually or collectively that will help all of our institutions get all of their content out.

We’re willing to assist in any way, but we’re not part of the negotiations for that. We’re just conduits and information providers.

Back to the Longhorn Network for a second. How would it being allowed to broadcast high school games affect the long-term stability of the Big 12?

DB: Well, I don’t think that. First of all, they’re not going to do that, unless, as they’ve said repeatedly, it’s allowed throughout the country. And, so right now, no one can conceive of a way that an institution or a conference-branded network can deliver and do such content -- high school, and you could say junior college or prep school as well -- involving prospective student athletes without it becoming a recruiting advantage.

And, I think another aspect of it that would be problematic, is with the issues that are around youth sports and the overemphasis in some youth sports -- you see that in problems we’re having in basketball and 7-on-7 football and so forth -- we’ve got to be very considerate in the college community as to whether we want to contribute to that or not.

So, I don’t think Texas is going to do anything, and they’ve said it repeatedly, that isn’t going to be fully considered by the NCAA membership and if there’s some method we’re not even tracking on because of emerging technologies that would allow them to not have a recruiting advantage, then maybe that’s possible.

I just don’t know what that is, and I don’t think anybody else does at this point.

You used to work for the NCAA. If it were just up to you, what would you decide regarding the Longhorn Network and similar networks being permitted to broadcast high school games?

DB: Well, right now, I’m willing to go listen and hear how it may be able to be done without any kind of connection to the university.

I just don’t see it. I would get to where we are right now, which is, we’re not doing this until there’s a full exploration of the whole matter and what and how it fits into the context of what we’re doing generally.

We’ve got strict recruiting rules that keep institutions from gaining one advantage or another. I mean, if you’ve got a Nobel Peace Prize winner on your campus, you can’t walk a student-athlete up to them and introduce them to him, for fear that they might influence them to come to your school or somebody else’s.

And in the context of all those rules that try to create as level of a playing field as we can get, I just don’t see, I can’t see it happening until we get a more full understanding of what’s going on.

So as far as the other issue at the meetings, did you feel like you squashed a major issue by putting down hard rules about a second game on the Longhorn Network, making sure that Texas, the opposing Big 12 team and the conference have to agree before it happens? Do you feel like you’ve gotten rid of that issue?

DB: Well, I don’t know about that. I can foresee some areas where two institutions get to use the same feed and put their own brand on it and all that, that would have to be outside each other’s regions and that could even benefit the rest of the schools. So, I don’t know. Again, this is new ground we’re plowing.

I think we set excellent parameters for going down the road, but we’ll just have to see what happens.

I know I heard a lot from A&M fans who felt like you misinterpreted the comments from Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin about the uncertainty regarding the conference vs. uncertainty regarding the Longhorn Network. Did you reassess any of that in the last couple weeks?

DB: I might have misinterpreted it. I was talking about that at the last minute at media days, but the way I read his comments was, there is uncertainty about what’s going to be done with these networks.

I didn’t read it as uncertainty about whether or not the league is going to stay together. I haven’t had a chance to talk to President [Dr. R. Bowen] Loftin about whether I was right or wrong about that. But that was my reading of that.

Obviously, there was uncertainty, otherwise we wouldn’t have had to have that meeting and iron some things out on Monday.

Did Texas A&M bring any of that up on Monday? The word choice or whatnot around that?

DB: No, that’s all media discussion and stuff, not stuff that’s being discussed by the conference.

So from your perspective, what has to happen for this league to move on in its current 10-team state without some of these issues popping up and bringing the issue of the Big 12’s future back into the discussion?

DB: We need to get some time under our belt and demonstrate that we can have disagreements, but we solve them and we’re moving forward. Not every disagreement means the conference is going to dissolve.

I think it is important, and I don’t think it’s been very well conveyed since the meeting, about how committed everybody was when we came together to work and solve those problems, and how much Texas was a part of the solution. What DeLoss has been reported as saying earlier is exactly the way he came into it -- which is, they wanted to make sure they don’t have a situation that creates a recruiting advantage, and they want to make sure that with any contest that goes on their network, that it isn’t to the disadvantage of any of our other institutions.

How much frustration do you sense from the rest of the league’s athletic directors about every time these things come up, as you put it, you kind of see the “vultures” circling a little bit?

DB: I think there’s a high level of frustration about that, but like I said to them, “Guys, we’ve just got to understand, we’re not going to have the benefit of the doubt, based on what we went through last summer and what certain sects of our population think should happen." We’re just going to have to work through these issues, come out in agreement of where we’re going.

Not everybody is going to get everything they want every time, but that’s the way it is in all families, and we’re going to work it out within the family, and eventually, we’ll show that we’re in a solid place and everybody is committed.

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